A view of the debris of the army-run school that was attacked by Taliban on Tuesday, in northwestern city of Peshawar, Pakistan, on December 17, 2014.
Anadolu Agency—2014 Anadolu Agency
December 18, 2014 3:16 AM EST

With the death toll from Peshawar school massacre rising to 148 — at least 132 of them children — residents of this strife-torn Pakistani city, and survivors, are struggling to come to terms with Tuesday’s horror.

Ibad, a Year 10 student at Peshawar’s Army Public School, said that he and his friend were attending first aid training in the school auditorium when five Taliban militants entered the hall and began firing indiscriminately. Ibad escaped severe injury, but his was struck in the leg by a bullet and saw the first aid trainer instantly killed in front of him. He also cradled his friend while his friend lay dying.

About 100 of the 150 children in the hall at the time were killed.

Sharukh Khan, a Year 10 student who was hit in the legs and back, was also in the hall when the gunmen entered.

“When they opened fire, our principal, Miss Tahira Qazi, asked them to shoot her instead of the kids,” he told TIME. “So they shot her. Then they threw flammable explosives on her body and torched her” he said, adding they were forced to watch.

On Wednesday, the school buildings were opened to local and international media, who were greeted by a horrific scene of dried blood and bullet casings. School bags and notebooks were poignantly strewn on the ground.

“Seven militants were killed during the operation; three blew themselves up inside the school building” said military spokesman Asim Bajwa.

Dr Zahir Shah was among the team providing emergency response at Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital.

“The students who were rushed here mostly had bullet wounds,” he told TIME. “There were seven- and eight-year-olds who had been shot in the chest, face and head. Each one had around four or five bullet wounds.”

He mentioned that some families still were visiting local hospitals as they couldn’t find their children.

Syed Tahir Shah, a resident of the area surrounding Peshawar’s historic Cunningham Cock Tower, lost his son, who was a Year 6 student. Shah found him at Lady Reading, enclosed in a coffin.

“My son took a bullet to the brain,” he sobbed. “The hospital administration has asked me to take his body for burial but what am I supposed to say to his mother and other relatives about why he has been killed?”

For the families of Peshawar, there is, of course, nothing that can be said to alleviate the pain caused by the incomprehensible slaughter of so many young lives.

Read next: School Massacre Unites Pakistan Against the Taliban

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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